A Real Account of Life as a Junior

By: Kara Haselton

Sophomores and freshman hear it constantly:

“Junior year is the worst.”

“Junior year is so hard.”

“You don’t know stress until junior year.”

And me, one who is already constantly daunted by the future, tried to ignore these seemingly hyperbolistic statements, and hope for the best.

Maybe, I thought, they just weren’t prepared. Maybe they spent too much time procrastinating and not taking school seriously, so when junior year hit, it hit them like a truck. Maybe, they aren’t used to studying, and so they didn’t know how to, which is why junior year seemed so hard.

And maybe, I thought, junior year won’t be that bad for me because I’ll have a positive outlook, I’ll prepare myself, and I’ll be ready for what awaits me in this year.

Well, name me the queen of underestimation because–wow, was I wrong.

But the things is, I’m a good student. I’m never really the smartest kid in the class, but I’m usually up there. And I always considered that to be the result of enjoying learning and having the normal human desire to be the best, especially when it comes to things I’m good at.

School smarts is a gift I’ve been given. I’m a firm believer in multiple intelligences and not thinking that just because someone isn’t a straight-A student means they’re incapable of success and being intelligent. Some people are academically intelligent, while others are musically intelligent, athletically intelligent, socially intelligent, and so on. One of my intelligences just happens to be that of academics, and so I do my best to excel if I can. And in that area, I usually can.

So getting an A was usually never a problem for me. I wasn’t worried. I did my best to prepare for the feared year of eleventh grade. But I had no idea.

I have always had a problem with school and the kind of unnecessary pressures put on students  by the institution, but I have never disliked it more than I do now. If you know me, I’ve probably already given you a five minute speech on how I feel about it.  

The overarching umbrella as to why I dislike school and the unnecessary pressures it can put on students is because there is more to life than school.

I know, I know, seems crazy enough. I mean, we already spend 35 hours a week at school and depending on your class schedule, possibly another 20-25 hours on top of that doing homework.

Oh, but wait, teenagers are also supposed to experience responsibility through having a job, or they have one because they need money, or they have one because, in some cases, they might have to help provide for their family, and so you can add anywhere between 5 hours a week to 20 hours a week.

And sometimes those students might come in the next day, not having their homework finished, or only having half of it done and that’s because they have a job that’s not necessarily a choice for some people. Maybe they got home late and were able to only finish an assignment for one class before they decided sleep and their sanity was more important. And to me, that’s okay.

And believe it or not, it is possible for you to learn outside of school. School is not your only inlet for learning, as Mr. Macleod likes to remind his students.

And also, believe it or not, having a social life IS IMPORTANT. It is important to have friends and be able to spend time with those friends because that is what helps us be a human. We were made for interaction, not isolation. There is a balance to be found for sure, but I’ve already deemed my friends’ life and emotional status to be more important than my grades at school. If they’re having a bad day and need a friend to remind them they’re alright, I’m going to take the time to do that. Because they’re important to me. What kind of person am I if I sacrifice the livelihood of a friend for my grade on one assignment that won’t matter in a year?

Or how about the need for creativity? We’re expected to be creative and excel in areas like art or music or dance if we can, but, oh no, if we spend time on those things, it will take away from our school assignments. Man.

Like most who are reading this, I’ve experienced what life can feel like when you let the system control you, and you think that school is the most important thing in your life,spending all your time doing schoolwork.

Last semester, the first semester of my junior year, that was me. I was working at the time, two days a week. I go to youth group at my church on Wednesday nights, and I play in the Praise Band there–it’s important to me. I have a “business” if you can call it that, selling things that I create at craft fairs. I have friends that are very important to me. I was (and still am) the co-editor of the Herald. I volunteer sometimes with an organization that helps resettle refugees in North Carolina and give them a livelihood. But I was also a junior, taking difficult classes because that’s what juniors do. I had this notion that it was possible for me to do all this, and still be a healthy person. Still eat well and get enough sleep and be emotionally and mentally okay, but you can’t give 100% of yourself to all of that and be alive. Maybe you’re different, but I couldn’t do it. I remember one day in newspaper class, I was so stressed out. And it was pretty obvious because I had been that way for like a week. When everyone was leaving, and I was the last one, Mr. Schweickert said to me, “What’s wrong with you?” And I just replied with the typical reply, “I just have a lot going on right now and I’m super stressed.” He just replied with, “Well, you need to come up with a better way of dealing with your stress because it’s not working for you right now.”

Honestly, at first I was pretty upset. But then I realized that he was right, and I was doing it to myself. Bad stress is a choice, and I was choosing to let it control my life. The reason I was “having a bad week” is simply because, although I had a lot going on, I was letting it overwhelm me to a bad point. And I’m pretty sure every junior (and probably every other student, too) has experienced that.

One frustrating thing that I’ve found is you can always do something more. Like I’ve previously stated, school takes up so much of your day, as well as homework. And I’ve found you could always read more of the textbook, spend more time writing essays, do more practice problems, spend more time on a question you don’t understand, but that’s not realistic. I am 99% sure that it is impossible for you to do everything you are asked of in a class, give it all your effort, and do that for every single class you’re taking. And to me, that’s so upsetting. It makes me feel like I’m constantly a failure. Even if you study really hard for one class, chances are you sorta neglected another class in order to prepare for that one, am I right? And still, maybe you got a 73 on it, or an 80, or if you’re really good you got a 94, and you could always say “Man, if I had just spent more time studying I could’ve gotten a better grade.” And that’s true. But should you?

If you spent a good amount of your afternoon studying for that test, but that’s not your only class, so you have to balance homework, so you spend time doing what’s assigned to you in your other three classes too, and by 10 or 11 o’clock you’re tired, so you decide to go to bed. And maybe that night was the night that your show came on, so you gave an hour of your day to that, but really the rest of the time you did homework or studied or slept; did you not do the most you could do? So why are you disappointed?

Yes because we want an A. We want that 100. But why?

Why did I sacrifice my social time with my friends, my sleep schedule, my job, just to roll out a lousy A in APUSH and Precalc?

To be honest, I don’t know. I worked so hard for those grades. Like in all honesty, I deserve what I got because I put in the effort, so yeah, it feels good. Yeah, I feel successful.

But was it really worth everything I gave up?

Was it worth all the stress?

What would you say? Why do you compete with your friends and classmates to get the grades you do, to become a junior marshal, top 10, top 20, whatever it is you want to achieve?

Why does our GPA dictate who we consider ourselves to be as a human?

When did we allow ourselves to become a number instead of a soul?

Can we please kill the stigma that if you’re not an A student, you’re not a good student?

To me, after that semester, I’ve decided it’s not worth it. Just because I don’t get an A in a class doesn’t mean I’m any less of a person than those who did. Just because I decided that spending time working or spending time with my family is more important than spending all the time studying that I could’ve, doesn’t mean I’m stupid.

I’ve resolved to have a life and let myself live it. I’m still going to pay attention in class, I’m still going to study. But I might start to give maybe 80% of myself to a class, so I don’t kill myself getting that A. Maybe I’ll spend more time working on the skills that correlate with what career field I want to go into, and maybe I can’t find those skills at school. Doesn’t mean I’m n0t learning, and maybe I’m learning even more than I could in the classroom.

And maybe, I’ll still get an A. But that’s not by expectation anymore.

I’m going to do my best, but make it count in the areas I’m passionate about.

Yeah, junior year is hard. It sucks. But it doesn’t have to.

Push yourself, but not off a cliff.

Standardized tests and classes do not define who you are as a person. The education system can’t fit everyone into the same box, so stop trying to let it.

I will not be the stressed, bloodshot–eyed junior that I’m surrounded with in so many of my classes. Bad stress is a choice, and I’m choosing to not let it control me.

Even as a junior, I’m going to live.  

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